Roboburgh | AI-powered supply chain | Wearable tech | VR
“I just want the future to happen faster. I can't imagine the future without robots." — Noland Bushnell
July 16, 2020
Photo by Phonlamai Photo for Shutterstock
If you think self-driving cars got their start in Silicon Valley, think again. The robocars that are popping up on Main Streets everywhere were born in Pittsburgh, Pa., according to the Pittsburgh Robotics Network (PRN). Yes, the city best known for its steel—the local NFL team had good reason for picking its name—is rapidly becoming nearly as well known for its silicon.
One indicator of Pittsburgh’s rich robotics scene is the number of nicknames the place has acquired. PRN uses “Roboburgh,” but you’ll also hear the terms “Robotics Row,” “Robot Belt” and “Silicon Valley East” batted about. But a better indicator is the number of robotics firms in the city—more than 50 and counting, according to PRN. Among them:
So why Pittsburgh?
Much of the credit goes to local higher-ed heavyweight Carnegie Mellon University. CMU opened its Robotics Institute in 1979—eons ago in robot years—and launched the world’s first Ph.D. in robotics a decade later. Since then, CMU has churned out more than 1,000 master’s and Ph.D. roboticists and spawned countless startups, including those listed above. Today, more than 900 faculty, staff, students, post-docs and visitors make use of the institute’s 183,000 square feet of facilities.
Among the institute’s alumni is Chris Urmson, who used to head Google’s autonomous-car program and now runs his own autonomous-car company, Aurora Innovation, which he founded with the former director of Tesla Autopilot. Current faculty are also doing plenty of cutting-edge R&D work. For example, William “Red” Whittaker, director of Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU’s) Field Robotics Center, is leading efforts to develop a fully autonomous moon rover that’s slated to blast off in 2022.
CMU’s Robotics Institute is the world’s largest robotics R&D shop, but it’s far from the only local player in the field. According to industry pub Robotics Business Review, nearly three dozen regional colleges and universities hand out more than 2,000 degrees in computer science, robotics and AI each year—and that doesn’t count degrees in related fields like mechanical and electrical engineering.
Of course, all the degree holders don’t remain in the area, but many do. Among the attractions are plentiful jobs—Pittsburgh is the fifth best U.S. city for STEM professionals—and an enviably low cost of living. Take that, Silicon Valley.
Citing those and other factors, Robotics Business Review recently named Pittsburgh one of America’s top five cities in which to launch a robotics business. “If you’re looking for a robotics-friendly location with a little less market saturation than Boston or Silicon Valley, Pittsburgh may be right for you,” its roundup said.
Now they just need to update the local NFL team’s name to reflect the digital age. Roboburgh Silicon Wafers, anyone?
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INNOVATIVE HELP WANTED
Work for a startup with a noble mission
How would you like to work for a company whose sole purpose is to improve the quality of life and health outcomes for people who are chronically ill? A company where you will find yourself working side by side with the best tech professionals out there?
Hive Networks is a mission-driven software company whose sole purpose is to improve outcomes for patients by connecting them, their caregivers, clinicians, and researchers via a data-sharing learning platform.
That mission is an important one. According to a parent of a patient involved in one of Hive Networks largest Learning Health Networks, “The doctor was my world, with Hive Networks, the world is now my doctor.”
Though Hive is a new company, it’s already experiencing the need to spread and scale their technology. “We want ‘players’ who are used to working with other top performers with minimal direction. Players who can trust senior management. Players who are truly committed to our mission,” says CincyTech Executive in Residence and Hive CEO John Bostick.
If you want to be a part of a fast-paced, challenging, and exciting work environment and think you have the talent to help Hive Networks with their mission, take a look at their current job openings here.
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FUELING THE FUTURE
AI-powered supply chain startup raises $1.5M
Photo by pathdoc for Shutterstock
Indy startup and Mira Innovation of the Year nominee ConverSight.ai has raised $1.5 million in a round led by Elevate Ventures. Other participants include TechStars, Bread & Butter Ventures, and Angel Round Table.
ConverSight’s “AI companion,” Athena, uses natural conversation technology to guide supply chain leaders through the process of collecting real-time data, conducting predictive and prescriptive analysis to aid business decision making, and automating tasks.
Thomas Millay, who has been appointed by Elevate as its representative, emphasized ConverSight’s potential. “We believe that the voice-enabled AI-driven analytics market will continue to grow significantly and will become a very large market over the next few years. The company is well positioned to capitalize on this market growth based on their leading technology and traction with enterprise customers.”
SpeechVive raises $1.5M to help Parkinson’s patients
Another Indiana startup has raised funding. SpeechVive has developed a wearable device that helps those with Parkinson’s disease speak more clearly. The device is based on research by Jessica Huber, a professor at Purdue’s department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences. Now, SpeechVive has raised more than $1.5 million in a syndicated funding round to help scale the business. Investors included Elevate Ventures, Purdue Foundry Investment Fund, and Racine Medical Angels.
SpeechVive is a smart device that sits behind the ear, and according to Huber, “detects when a patient is speaking and elicits louder and clearer speech through an involuntary reflex known as the Lombard Effect.“
“Approximately 89% of people with Parkinson’s disease will have speech issues,” she said. “Access to SpeechVive for those patients will make a significant improvement in their quality of life.”
Four Kansas City startups land funding, “sandbox” support
Four startups in Kansas City have landed funding and support for their businesses. The funding and support come from Digital Sandbox KC, a local organization designed to help entrepreneurs access proof-of-concept resources, early-stage commercialization, and access to technology and experts. Each company is eligible for up to $20,000 in early-stage funding.
Two of the four companies receiving funding are led by entrepreneurs of color, noted Digital Sandbox KC’s director Jill Meyer. “Digital Sandbox KC has a strategic role to play, not only in advancing early-stage ideas but also in helping improve access to resources, experts and funding for entrepreneurs who have been traditionally and historically under-represented in the tech space,” she said.
Study uses gene therapy to mitigate arthritis in mice
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have been using gene therapy to promote muscle development and reduce obesity as a means of combating osteoarthritis. The work involves injecting mice with a virus carrying a gene called follistatin, which suppresses the activity of a protein that regulates muscle growth.
The results were impressive. The mice doubled their muscle mass, gained strength, and kept weight off even when fed a high-fat diet—all without increasing exercise. Other benefits included “less cartilage damage related to osteoarthritis, lower numbers of inflammatory cells and proteins in their joints, fewer metabolic problems, and healthier hearts and blood vessels.”
Senior investigator Farshid Guilak, PhD, said that exercise and physical therapy remain the primary ways to treat people with osteoarthritis, but this research is encouraging.
Duke scientists use VR to study PTSD
A recent study at Duke University used virtual reality to simulate an IMAX-like experience for 49 research subjects to examine how the human brain responds to threats—and to try to determine why certain experiences create “long-lasting threat memory,” or post traumatic stress.
The subjects were placed in an MRI tube to scan their brain activity while the VR simulation placed them in an alley, where threatening characters popped up, in some cases very close and in others, farther away. Different parts of the brain were engaged depending on threat proximity, with the nearby threats engaging the cerebellum.
Kevin LaBar, senior author of a recently published paper detailing the study, said that could be the key to developing new therapies for PTSD. “We think that the cerebellum might be an interesting place to intervene. Clinically, it's a new interventional target,” he said.
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